For Sharon and her husband, travelling from Seattle to Saskatoon via Vancouver to be with her parents over the holidays, the whole journey has been a “nightmare before Christmas.”
The couple, who reside in the Seattle area, arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Monday around 6:40 p.m. PT. As they approached the gate for their subsequent trip to Saskatoon, their WestJet flight was delayed several times and eventually cancelled around midnight. Travellers on that flight were told to go to baggage claim to collect their bags.
“They told us the airport is shut down, it’s not just your flight [that is] cancelled, everything is shut down,” she told Yahoo Canada on Thursday afternoon.
Sharon and her husband were finally able to collect their bags around 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, describing the process of doing so “chaos.”
“We were told that they would not be able to cover hotel expenses, no vouchers because this was weather-related and that we were on our own,” Sharon said.
After being told to wait in a line at the airport WestJet counter to rebook a flight, Sharon and her husband were greeted to a line “about a quarter of a mile long” and there was no staff to process re-bookings.
They literally left, so there was nobody. To me, that was the most the most devastating because none of us knew what to do and there was nobody to talk to.Sharon, stranded traveller at YVR airport
After spending the night, awake, at the airport, the WestJet check-in counter reopened at around 6:00 a.m. on Tuesday. About two hours later, Sharon recalls that a WestJet staff member came down to the line to say “sorry, we are not doing re-bookings at the check-in counter,” indicating that they did not have the staff to do so.
Sharon and her husband then went online to try to find a hotel for the night, but nothing in the area was available and the weather conditions were too bad to make their way downtown. The couple heard that Uber wasn’t running and booking a room further away would risk missing a potential flight.
The couple ended up booking another flight with Air Canada, through Travelocity, the site they used to book their original WestJet flight. The plane was scheduled to leave at Tuesday at 2:15 p.m. The tickets were about $900 per person, one way from Vancouver to Saskatoon.
That flight was cancelled late morning and they received an automatic rebooking for a flight on Thursday at 8:30 p.m.
After spending a second night at the airport, this time trying to get some sleep, the couple got a hotel room near the airport on Wednesday. They waited together for three hours for their bags, before Sharon left to find the shuttle to the hotel, leaving her husband to wait even longer.
“He was told at baggage they thought the bags had been sent to the gate for our new flight with Air Canada but they had no record, no scanning,” Sharon explained. “He went personally to the check-in counter to make sure, as they suggested.”
Sharon’s husband was told the bags were “probably” in the queue for the new flight, but as of Thursday afternoon they didn’t have any certainty.
As a precaution, they also “begged” the hotel to allow them to book an additional night, in case they need it, and were told they had to book an additional two nights, as a minimum.
On Thursday evening, Air Canada cancelled the couple’s flight to Saskatoon and were told that there are no flights until Dec. 26. The reason for the flight cancellation was due to “crew constraints.”
“We will be among the countless others who will not be with our families for Christmas,” Sharon wrote in an email to Yahoo Canada on Thursday night. “It turns out that there are no rental cars even available right now so we are going to see if some colleagues of ours can drive us back to Seattle after this next storm clears.”
“We cannot even get our bags back right now—while I was in line to see what Air Canada could do for us, my husband was in the line at baggage claim. He said he was told that there was no one that could get our bags which were in the holding area due to understaffing… I asked the Air Canada rebooking agent for reimbursement for flight and hotel and he gave me a card with the Air Canada claims phone number. Something for another day.”
‘It just felt like such huge abandonment’
Overall, Sharon described this whole experience, for herself and other travellers, as completely “devastating.”
“I don’t consider myself an extrovert, by any means, but I was just so drawn to people and what they’re suffering, and their stories, and it’s truly heartbreaking,” she said. “I’ve talked to airline pilots, they’re just shaking their heads.”
“It seems there are several issues that are creating a domino effect. The travellers I’ve spoken to have been saying, hands down, communication from the airlines has been abysmal and they have been feeling misled.”
Sharon also recognizes that de-icing procedures have been a “bottleneck issue” and that staffing amid the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be an issue, but she stressed that increased travel during the holidays is a predictable pattern and weather experts had also predicted this storm coming through.
“Hundreds, thousands of people are not with their loved ones,” Sharon said. “People [were] told they are now not flying out until Dec. 26,…several of them said they’ll be [spending Christmas at the airport.]”
While it’s been an incredibly long, emotional and gruelling week for the couple, travellers have also really come together to support each other through this difficult time.
“I’ve seen amazing things, I’ve heard amazing things,” Sharon said. “There was a gentleman who was in extreme back pain, standing there leaning on his baggage cart because there was nowhere to go, and I went over to talk to him, just to help him feel better.”
“A couple that arrived from Mexico, hoping to fly through here,…hadn’t eaten since they left Mexico. I gave them a couple of breakfast bars. We’re all trying to help each other. But it’s because of this vacuum of no help. Stories of people trying to call the airlines or trying to get through to someone, and nothing.”
For the couple, and other travellers they’ve spoken to, the lack of communication from the airlines has left them feeling abandoned.
It’s] devastating because it’s one thing to be stranded, but it’s a whole other level to not have anybody for recourse, or anything to find out what could be done, what’s possible. I understand they were overwhelmed, but to have left us there, it just felt like such huge abandonment.Sharon, traveller stranded at YVR for days
“I’m hearing this over and over again, I see it in people’s faces, I hear it in their voices.”
In an update on Thursday, WestJet warned travellers that “there is very limited re-accommodation availability due to the high demand for travel this time of year and the significant impact across the industry.”
Air Canada is urging travellers check the daily travel outlook for more information about delays and cancellation in their destination. The airline is offering a flight change, free of charge, for impacted flights.